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Remember the personality quizzes that ask you things like, "What does your favourite deodorant say about you?" Researchers from the University of Westminster have recently completed a study of 361 men that sounds deceptively like a lad’s mag quiz, the topic being, "What does your breast size preference say about you?"
The study, which was published in the February issue of the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, analysed the impact of men’s “oppressive beliefs” and how they influence the way they perceive female beauty ideals – specifically, female breast sizes.
According to The Huffington Post, a group of British white males between the age of 18 to 68 were shown a video of five computer-generated 3-D female models – from the flat-chested to the well-endowed. They were then asked to rate the figure that they found most physically attractive and complete a survey that assessed their sexist attitudes and tendency to objectify women.
Each participant had to answer questions based on four separate scales: their hostility towards women, attitude towards male and female relationships, objectification of women and ‘benevolent sexism’ – a term that essentially describes the belief that women are the ‘fairer’ (but weaker) sex.
The study found that the largest percentage of men (32.7%) found medium-sized breasts to be the most attractive, followed by large (24.4%) and very large (19.1%) breasts. Younger men were also more likely to rate busty women as more attractive.
Not surprised? Well, these figures don't tell the full story. Turns out, the findings also revealed that the more sexist a man is, the more likely he’ll be drawn to women with bigger breasts.
More significantly, ‘benevolent sexism’ was found to be the strongest predictor for breast size rating – overshadowing factors like sexual objectification and hostility towards women. Study co-author Viren Swami explains: “Benevolently sexist men may perceive larger breasts as ‘‘appropriate’’ for feminine women; in other words ... a feminine and submissive woman is likely to be someone with large breasts.”
Ironically, this means it’s the ‘nice guys’ who pride themselves in holding open car doors, offer to pay for dinners and believe ladies are to be ‘admired’ and ‘put on a pedestal’ who are most likely to buy into traditional beauty ideals – like having a ‘feminine figure’ in this case.
“It has been proposed that men’s greater endorsement of oppressive beliefs are associated with a preference for traditional, feminine beauty ideals, particularly those that are difficult to attain or that require constant work on the body,” writes Swami.
So why is this problematic? Swami believes that emphasis on physical attractiveness is used by male-dominated societies to “ensure that women’s attention is shifted away from their real competencies and toward superficial aspects associated with their appearance.”
Though manifested in a much more subtle way, women with the desired physical assets – if you will – are essentially 'coaxed and flattered' into accepting oppressive gender roles. Since those with traditional feminine traits are rewarded socially for their conformity, they are more likely to succumb to self-objectification – often at the cost of not being treated as an equal at work or at home.
Witness this Wonderbra ad flashback:
As feminist scholar Susan Sontag argues in her essay, “Women's Beauty”, in a world where women are already taught to see their bodies in parts and encouraged to scrutinise each part separately, “what is accepted by most women as a flattering idealisation of their sex is a way of making women feel inferior to what they actually are.”
The results from Swami’s study are significant not just because it highlights how sexist attitudes can influence the way physical beauty is judged, but also because of the fact that it continues to be normalised by unsuspecting men and women. Being attracted to women with big breasts doesn’t automatically make someone sexist – but it’s a good litmus for our obsession with policing female appearance – ‘nice guys’ included.